By Ryo Tarui
Going weeks without electricity while carrying a backpack weighing more than 90 pounds, new junior Bizzy Cottage hiked and lived in the deep woods this past summer while encountering deadly creatures like bears and rattlesnakes.
Bizzy attended Henderson High School in West Chester, PA, up to sophomore year before transferring to Woodlynde School. However, before enrolling at Woodlynde, she wanted to learn more about herself. Bizzy felt as if she needed to challenge herself by getting out of her comfort zone. Therefore, she enrolled in Trails Carolina, a three-month wilderness survival program designed to help individuals increase their self-confidence.
Bizzy was in denial when she first arrived at the program, located in North Carolina. The only previous camping experience she had was with her brother and his Boy Scout troop, but it was nowhere near as extreme as this.
“There was no preparation or training for this camp,” Bizzy said. “It was a ‘Just do it’ experience.”
Bizzy’s group consisted of about five girls ages 14 to 17, and four staff members. The group did everything together such as hike, camp, and talk about their lives.
Bizzy’s group ventured into the woods for two weeks, four separate times. They hiked from campsite to campsite without having any connection to modern society. The group could not have any electronic devices, not even their phones. They weren’t even allowed to check what time it was.
The program was very extreme. Pure survival in the wild. Hikes could be anywhere from 3 to 7 miles every day for 2 weeks at a time, in all types of weather.
Bizzy had to find running water daily, which the group had to filter in order to drink. Her backpack, called a bear bag, could weigh more than 90 pounds.
A bear bag is a type of bag that can be lifted into a tree, so when you sleep in a tent at night, the bear can’t get to the food. The pack contained, among other essentials, all the food Bizzy was going to eat for the entire two-week adventure, such as oats, tortillas, peanut butter, rice, and beans.
Having days when it rained made setting up camp and lighting fires a lot more challenging.
Once, a girl broke her foot, and after she returned from the hospital on crutches, the other girls had to split up and carry everything in her pack on top of their own supplies.
Bizzy and her group called the entire experience “Woods Crazy.” It meant that everything felt like a dream and nothing was real.
One day, the group stumbled upon a Diamondback rattlesnake, while they were hiking up an extremely steep hill. Bizzy said that after being in the woods for so long, not even a deadly snake surprised her. The group had to go around the snake, but one of her friends slipped and fell right next to it. Luckily, the snake wasn’t disturbed and no one was hurt.
Bizzy also encountered a bear. She woke up one morning to find a big bear just sitting in the middle of the campsite and a staffer had to scare it away.
The program was so demanding, some campers tried to run away or pushed their limits so they could leave the program, Bizzy said.
Bizzy managed to stay mentally strong, and she was able to fight through the struggles of survival. She completed the camp, accomplished a great deal, and learned new skills like how to set up a tent, filter water for drinking, and bow drill, which is a technique to start fires.
Bow drilling is using a large tool shaped like a bow. When repeatedly pulled back and forth, it creates enough friction to make a glowing ember (known as a “coal”) to start a fire. Being able to start a fire with it is extremely difficult.
“I felt very accomplished because it’s a very hard skill and when you hear about it, it sounds intimidating, but after working on it for a couple days, it gets easier and all the hard work you put into it feels so much more meaningful,” Bizzy said.
Bizzy earned achievements like MBC, which is short for Master Bow drilling Challenge. She earned this achievement by performing a certain challenge relating to bow drilling. Her challenge was to “bust a coal” blindfolded, meaning she had to create the coal without being able to see, while using this method.
Bizzy had no contact with the outside world. Being in such an isolated state with her group made any outside contact seem extremely significant. The camp distributed letters once a week that were sent by a parent and you had to read it to everyone in the group.
HOMESICK AND EMOTIONAL
“The second week, I was homesick and felt quite emotional,” Bizzy said. She learned that her parents were trying to help her by supporting her enrollment in the program.
Bizzy’s mother said she respected Bizzy’s courage to step outside of her normal world and cut ties with everything she knew.
“To make a decision like that when you are at a low point is truly a sign of her inner strength, and that still impresses me,” Mrs. Cottage said.
During the adventure, Bizzy’s absence for over three months left a hole in their family, said Mrs. Cottage. “Even today as I think of it, I am still emotional. We missed her so much and [when we picked her up] there she was, so strong and happy (and dirty).”
“To this day, I think it was the best decision she could have made,” Mrs. Cottage said. “She learned a lot about herself and we, as a family, learned together, too.”
Bizzy said the purpose of Trails Carolina is to put the camper into an unfamiliar environment to make them more aware of their surroundings. It made her a more confident and independent individual. She said it was overall very positive and has changed the course of her life.
“The best memory was knowing that you were the one that did everything, and it was peaceful at night after a long hike so I could sleep well at night,” she said.
Bizzy learned that hard work will give you confidence and strength. Trails Carolina was there to support her and to teach her to fight through challenging obstacles.
“It was extremely stressful but I loved the program,” Bizzy said. “I wish I could go back. It was a simple life and less problematic.”